Meet the Men
Who Run the River
By Dan Hust
MILFORD, PA January 9, 2007 Steve Blanchard may be the Delaware River Master, but that title’s a bit misleading.
“A lot of times people look to us and blame us for problems we have no control over,” he said recently from his Reston, Virginia office.
Blanchard, of course, is partially referencing the horrendous floods that have hit the Delaware River basin for the past three years times when Blanchard has been harshly reminded that his “master” title wasn’t given to him by Mother Nature.
Still, Blanchard, Deputy Delaware River Master Gary Paulachok and hydrologist Bruce Krejmas carry the weight and authority of a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decree on their shoulders, and the trio’s actions and decisions affect no less than 15 million people, five percent of the U.S. population.
They’re charged with ensuring that the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, plus New York City, comply with the ’54 decree, allowing the city and NJ to take millions of gallons of water a day from the river basin for drinking and other needs.
That decree mandates those entities also ensure a flow of no less than 1,750 cubic feet per second on the Delaware River, measured at an historic stream gaging station near Montague, NJ.
The idea is that no one from the Delaware’s headwaters in upstate New York 330 miles downriver to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean between New Jersey and Delaware should be bereft of water.
And the Office of the Delaware River Master is that decree’s guardian.
On a more tangible level, Blanchard, Paulachok and Krejmas cooperate to track daily flows, predict future flows, direct releases of water from New York City reservoirs in the river watershed and make regular reports to everyone from the decree parties to the U.S. Supreme Court.
They also work with agencies like the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), on whose Regulated Flow Advisory Committee Paulachok sits as River Master representative.
As an arm of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), they are beholden to the public at large, as well, and as Paulachok will tell you, trying to meet the disparate needs of the involved governments, fishermen, canoe liveries and riverside residents can be a daunting task.
“This is a challenging job,” Paulachok explains. “There are definite constituencies, each with different concerns… The problem that arises is that their desires may conflict with the desires and needs of other groups.”
There’s an even bigger issue: the River Master can’t do anything that violates the decree, and that 52-year-old document also mandates the four involved states and the city unanimously agree to any changes.
That’s why Paulachok and Krejmas could only function as information clearinghouses during the recent floods, sharing as much data as possible with those affected by the catastrophes.
They can’t initiate flood relief programs or even water releases during floods, although they do provide technical advice to the decree parties on these and other flow-related issues. They’re hopeful a new spill mitigation program for the city’s reservoirs will help alleviate some flooding issues on the Delaware, but their task is to follow policy, not make it.
In that respect, Paulachok shares with Krejmas a modest office suite in a small corporate park off I-84 near Milford, Pa. not far from the original Delaware River Master office on Broad Street.
The reason Milford has been the River Master’s base of operations for 50 years is simple: the main Montague gaging station from which the 1,750 cubic feet-per-second flow requirement is measured sits on the shore of the Delaware next door to the Pike County seat.
The station’s data is relayed to the office via a hardwired connection, and a graph of the river’s flow continues to be printed on the same chart recorder the office purchased in 1957.
But with the advent of the Internet, that data and much more has become available to the masses online, and so you can literally see the results of Paulachok’s and Krejmas’ efforts on a daily basis.
The two ensure the numerous gages along the river and its tributaries are working properly whilst also collecting and analyzing the data they provide. In this regard, they also employ four human observers to collect and report streamflow information from remote parts of the river basin.
Those figures are then used to calculate whether or not the Delaware will meet the required flow target at Montague, and if not, Paulachok is on the phone with the city to make it happen.
New York City, of course, operates three reservoirs which feed into the river basin (including the Neversink in Sullivan County), while PPL and Mirant (two energy companies) operate hydroelectric reservoirs in Pennsylvania and Sullivan County which also feed into the Delaware.
Paulachok is authorized to direct releases of water from the city’s reservoirs into the river to ensure a minimum flow. During times of drought, that minimum changes, but regardless, it is up to him on a daily basis to ensure the requirements of the Supreme Court are met.
The Mountainhome, Pa. resident is no stranger to this kind of work. He is a registered professional geologist in Pennsylvania and Delaware and possesses a master’s in engineering geology from Drexel University.
Serving as deputy Delaware River Master since 1999, Paulachok has also been Pa.’s District Chief and State Representative for the USGS’ Water Resources Discipline, supervisory hydrologist of modeling and resources assessment at the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. District, and project chief of groundwater investigations in Philadelphia, Berks and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania.
His proudest achievement during his 29 years with the USGS was serving as project chief of the Atlantic City and Vicinity Water-Supply Study, where he oversaw the drilling of two deep monitor wells in the Atlantic Ocean located two and five miles off Atlantic City, NJ.
Paulachok and a group of scientists and water experts spent five months on an offshore drilling platform in 1985, collecting and analyzing data.
As they studied the ability of the region to sustain the resort area’s water needs, they discovered that freshwater began to mix with saltwater nearly half a dozen miles out to sea.
“That was great news for the new casino industry,” recalled Paulachok, due to the shoreline megalopolis’ immense freshwater needs.
In the years following, he rose through the ranks and served under two supervisors who were Delaware River Masters. Eventually he was offered the job of deputy Delaware River Master.
“This was a good career move, because it got me back into science,” he said, speaking of the job’s intense data collection and analysis requirements.
It’s a job he intends to retire from.
“This is where I plan to finish my career,” the 51-year-old acknowledged.
He has little interest in being the Delaware River Master a position that deals more with the legal and administrative aspects of the decree than with scientific pursuits.
While Paulachok spends his days (and sometimes nights and even weekends) poring over flow figures and generating reports, Blanchard devotes about 10-15 percent of his time to his River Master duties.
The rest of his work schedule is focused on being the USGS’ Chief of the Office of Surface Water, creating policies, seeking funding and overseeing a $120 million budget for the USGS’s 7,400 surface water gages around the country.
About a dozen of those gages are located in and around Sullivan County, including along the Neversink in Claryville and Bridgeville, the Beaverkill in Cooks Falls and the Mongaup in Mongaup Valley.
All those rivers feed into the Delaware, which has its own local gages in Callicoon and Barryville, among others. You can look at the current and past statistics for any of them at http://water.usgs.gov/waterwatch.
But Blanchard isn’t regularly engaged in reading their results that’s Paulachok and Krejmas’ job.
Instead, Blanchard spends his River Master time dealing with the decree party principals and the U.S. Department of the Interior (the USGS’ parent agency).
He also signs off on the office’s annual reports to the Supreme Court and makes the “official” decisions on major matters.
Perhaps most significantly, he is the ultimate authority in administering the provisions of the Supreme Court decree, which stipulates that he must be an engineer to hold the position.
He doesn’t often have to flex his authoritative muscle, but recently, Blanchard did write a letter to the New York State Legislature advising it not to pursue a consideration to wrest control of the upstate reservoirs from New York City (which would violate the decree).
He visits the Milford office at least once a year but attends events and meetings in the upper Delaware only occasionally, including the annual Sojourn sponsored by the Upper Delaware Council.
While he doesn’t see the need for both a River Master and a Deputy River Master, he understands the thinking behind it one for handling policy and politics, the other for handling data collection and day-to-day office duties.
“The Milford staff do a super job,” he remarked, “tracking flows and making sure the provisions of the decree are carried out. It’s a very challenging job.”
The USGS’s involvement in the Delaware is unique, however, in that the river is the only one of its kind to be overseen by the USGS. The Army Corps of Engineers and local/state governments oversee the nation’s numerous other bodies of water, and the USGS typically is only involved in collecting and analyzing data, not river basin administration.
But that’s what the Supreme Court decreed in 1954.
“The Delaware is really the only place we manage a resource… My guess is it’s because we’re… an independent science organization not involved in resource management,” proffered Blanchard.
In other words, the USGS’s only agenda is to use the data it collects for scientific, not political, purposes.
Blanchard, a 28-year veteran at USGS (the last 10 of which were at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia), likes that approach and the fact that he spearheads it within the 13,500-square-mile Delaware River basin.
“The gratifying thing is to see how it functions and help facilitate that,” he remarked. “This is a position that affects millions of people.”
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For more information on the Office of the Delaware River Master, log on to http://water.usgs.gov/orh/nrwww/odrm.